Market Segment Manager - IBM Collaboration Solutions
(note: This is a folllow-up to an
earlier post I made here back in October, “Email is dead! Long live email!” And watch this space for even more later this week!
There's a story that's making quite an impact
and is being shared a lot on LinkedIn. Thierry Breton, the CEO of Atos
, one or Europe's
larger IT services firms, plans to ban internal email altogether from his enterprise
months time. His announcement taps into the frustration many of us feel about email. The frustration may be real, but rarely paints the whole picture. I saw this great infographic
that email continues to be one of the most popular
collaboration tools (188 BILLION emails a day!). The BrainYard.com webcast and SlideShare postI co-wrote with my colleague David Via tells a similar story. Or in
the words of our own Louis Richardson
doesn't kill productivity, people kill it; they just use email to do it”
In other words, email is extremely powerful, else it would not be as popular as it is. But where there's frustration, there's opportunity to improve. To improve email, and bring it back to “favored” status among the nations of social collaboration tools.
1. Evolution vs. Revolution: The difference between scrubbing your baby clean vs. throwing it out with the bathwater.
The inbox as we use it today isn't working. We're asking it to do a lot: project management, multi-part document collaboration,
notifications, broadcasts, marketing, private conversation, and much more. The email "client wars" have added a lot of great functions. But in all the “function fervor”, so much has been added that end-users often feel overwhelmed by the complexity.
But banning email entirely throws out the good with the bad: it eliminates a great tool for private 1-on-1 discussions; breaks tight
and intuitive integration with calendars and todos and contact management; and needlessly eliminates well-established collaboration behaviors. If email was so useless, why are Facebook and LinkedIn and
Google spending a lot of resources to integrate email directly in their social networks?
And right there is Opportunity #1
: simplify mail by stripping it clean, and connect it directly with newer social tools. That will make it easier to move what we do poorly in email (group conversations, file sharing, etc.) to tools better suited to those tasks. This way email complements rather than competes with the whole collaboration environment. Productivity returns. We may even return to the days when “I just got an email” was anticipated, not dreaded.
2. Leverage trust, not just edicts, for long-term change
Adoption is a process. And that goes for “de-adoption”. Switching tools is not as simple as “make it so!” Change management has clear landmines:
- Top down edicts can get people moving fast, but by themselves don't usually stick enough to change long-term behavior.
- Longer term changes require additional cues from people you trust: change agents, early adopters, evangelists, middle managers, and others that show us the way
- People use existing experiences as metaphors for new behaviors; too sharp a shift from the “old way” to the “new way”, and productivity suffers from fear and uncertainty.
has been publicly documenting his goal of working email-free. It took over 4 years -- far longer than the 18 months Thierry Breton is suggesting – before
his email volume dropped by over 90%. But 90% isn't 100%: he still works with coworkers (and customers) that are required to or want to use email. He himself still finds value in email as a good tool for
specific tasks. And he uses his own struggles, and successes, in shifting some tasks from email to newer tools as a way to help others adopt newer ways of working.
And here's Opportunity #2:
evolving email provides an excellent bridging strategy. A more social inbox helps bring the majority of workers comfortable with email into a more social enterprise. It builds a story about how you can from here (a cluttered inbox) to there (a more social, more productive workplace). As you get more comfortable with moving certain tasks onto more appropriate tools, email is freed up to support more productive uses.
3. We're all in this together (or, don't forget your customers)
Assume Atos CEO's edict is successful. Even if employees stop using email altogether internally, it STILL won't go away. Email is
still one of the few truly universal and standardized communication modes for business (a great strength!). Social networks are still new, and generally not yet inter-operable on the same scale. What are
the chances your clients are already on your specific social network? Even if they are, what are the chances that all of them can, or want,
to collaborate with you over those newer tools?
So here's Opportunity #3:
continue to give people a standard, truly interoperable tool that works just as well inside as
outside the firewall. But integrate it better with other tools, so we still get the choice of collaboration tools that make sense for whatever particular circumstance we happen to be in.
So, what does it all mean?
It means email doesn't go away.
It means we stop thinking about one email client vs. another – which leads to the false choice of killing it entirely. Instead, we evolve email to focus on the things it does best, and integrate it with other tools so we can move other tasks to where deeper connections and greater collaboration can be realized. I encourage
you to come to Lotusphere 2012 in Orlando FL January 15 - 19
to learn a lot more about how IBM is evolving email to
meet these new needs.
What do you think? How do you see enterprise email today? How do you want email to change to be more social?